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Little Reid Big City #21

Hello, Reiders. I feel like we’re really beginning to get close now. You treat me so good, and I really appreciate you. Look –we’re so fond of each other.

Happenings: I’m trying to get a tape ready to submit for comedy festivals. Figure it’d be a good way to get out in the comedy world a bit, gather a few more credits to my name. It’s a little more difficult here –I’m not passed at any clubs, and though I’m getting booked regularly on shows it can be hard to get a good tape. Most of the venues aren’t always the most respectable looking; despite having a good set, a coffee shop or a Thai restaurant backdrop may make it not the best choice for a submission. A few comics I know have gone outside the city to make tapes, to Boston or to their home clubs. I’ll be doing a show in Boston in December, so I’m hoping to get a good tape from that, but until then I may have to settle with what I can tape on my flipcam, though it’s no excuse not to submit. I also got head shots today, something I’d been meaning to do but had always put off. It feels good to take some necessary steps outside of writing and performing to help my career.

I talked a few weeks ago with comedian Billy Prinsell. We were getting ready to perform at a hostel in Chelsea, and sat out front discussing how humor works. Billy was a philosophy major in college, and wrote his thesis on comedy. Among other things, he stressed the importance of having a defined character. The comedic character, he said, is a character whose personality is a constant –they remain the same while events go on around them, and humor arises from how they respond to the situation. It does not change them; they maintain a point of view and comment upon each event. This differs from the dramatic character, which does not hold a consistent personality –they change with the events, and are affected deeply by what happens around them. Billy’s comedy reflects this understanding. He is himself, but a highly characterized version of himself, and what he says it not always funny in and of itself, but often is funny only in the context of his well-defined character. He’s a buff guy, a trainer at a gym, seemingly muscle-headed and bro-y, which makes even the mention of Beauty and the Beast or Greek mythology seem hilarious. It’s been giving me a lot to think about. Even the great comedians, Louis CK, Maria Bamford, Doug Stanhope, despite covering a huge breadth of subjects and ways to formulate a joke, are very consistently themselves. You know who they are, what they are, and they can be described fairly easy. This is not a bad thing; it lends a clear context to all their jokes.

On the other hand, I think it’s dangerous to look for so easy a definition. I remember seeing Bobcat Goldthwait a couple years ago at Go Bananas. He’s a big comic, and is known in stand-up for his nervous, voice-cracking, bizarre delivery. It’s a character, clear and obvious. At Go Bananas he abandoned it. He talked normally, told stories, and did a great set. Afterward he talked about how happy he was that he could do that –abandon his character, the trademark voice, just act as he acts and still do well. He said that in other cities he couldn’t get away with that, that if he doesn’t do what he is known for that the crowd won’t respond. The character helped him get to where he is in comedy, but it also eventually became something he resented.

I am trying to maintain a consistency with my humor. With getting up so much each week I find myself working on jokes that I don’t necessarily resonate with, that don’t reflect the qualities that make me a unique comedian. I’ll work on those jokes until I find something I like more that fits my style, and then drop them. I know right away for the most part if a joke is something I will hold on to, not even if it works, but if it fits. It is important to develop a clear style, to provide a context for the audience, a unity to your set. But at the same time I’m wary to define that so early in my comedy career –it will change as I go on, develop and make itself clearer, and limiting myself too early could be something I regret later. I guess it’s a balancing act in the end, between experimenting and looking outside your style to keep yourself interested, and learning to define and exude a specific personality to keep your audience invested. I used to try to guide the audience into my comedy with easier jokes that were more traditional, but changing personalities midway to do a more bizarre kind of comedy (which I enjoyed more) threw them off. By coming out strange, doing simpler but still odd humor up top, I find I gain their trust easier for the rest of the set –I won’t betray them, they trust me because even if they don’t know what to expect, they at least know to expect that.

Little Reid Big City #20

Hello again, Reiders.

I did it! I have now lived in New York City for a year. I am a pleased young man (with myself!). Instead of doing the traditional blog post, to commemorate the occasion I thought I would do something a little different. When I first moved out here, I asked a lot of people for advice, but seeing as I didn’t really know a lot of comedians in New York, most of that advice was terrible. I didn’t know what to expect, where to start, or how to really get involved, so I decided once I did get some kind of grasp on such things, I would try to share it. What follows is some advice for the comedian moving to New York. To make it a little more comprehensive, I’ve turned to other friends who made the move in the last year to get their side of things. Of course there are different ways to approach the move, ways to make it in the scene and entirely other scenes to get involved in here, but I think this can provide good reference for a recent transplant. Hooray!

1. Hang out. Stick around after your set, after the mic/show, and get to know everyone, even if they’re not the best comic. Having friends makes all of this easier, and becoming a part of the scene is almost as important as crafting a new joke. –Me!
2. You HAVE to get a job when you move here. It doesn’t matter how much money you’ve saved. It’s better to have a job you hate to pay bills and do mics than run out of money and be miserable. You will lose your mind. There is no way around this. –Andrew Short
3. If you have a car, keep it. Once you get in at clubs or whatever and meet people, if you have a car they might use you for work! It’s crazy but undoubtedly true. That being said, try to make sure you’ve got the chops if you’re invited to do a gig. –Robbie Collier
COUNTER POINT: I got rid of my car after being here a while, never used it, and it is very expensive. You don’t need it for the city, but he is right you can get taken places if you do have it. Weigh the cost versus the opportunities, or maybe keep it somewhere else until you need it.
4. Take advantage of the city. It’s usually better to get up than to watch a show but NY is the best city in the country for comedy and there are a ton of great shows you can see for free, so go out once in awhile. I will never regret skipping a mic at the Creek to watch John Mulaney tape his special. I will also never regret skipping a Saturday mic to go to the beach. –Mark Chalifoux
5. Find a mic you like, and keep showing up. The best way to integrate yourself is to become a fixture -make it easier for people to recognize you. They won’t trust you on stage at first, so earn it. –Me!
COUNTERPOINT: Mix up the mics you do. Don’t get too comfortable in front of one crowd. There are music open mics, club open mics (avoid the ones where you pay an individual, stick to the ones where you buy a drink or pay the room), alt rooms, black rooms, yadda yadda. Do them all and mix up which ones you do. Take out the friendly factor. –Robbie Collier
6. Everyone thinks you need thick skin to be a comic in New York. Not true. You can have thin skin as long as you also have the knack for living with constant feelings of inadequacy, fear, and vague, undirected anger. –Brendan Eyre
7. Learn where all the cheap eats are: dollar pizza, falafel, Vanessa’s Dumplings, etc. It’ll save your ass and your wallet for mic money. –Robbie Collier
8. You have to start your own show. –Andrew Short
COUNTERPOINT: No really, you have to. Wait until you’re integrated a little maybe, but it really helps with everything.
9. Bringer shows are almost always a scam and don’t bark to earn stage time. Your soul will get crushed in plenty of different ways, you don’t need to accelerate that process. –Mark Chalifoux
10. No one pays attention to you unless you’re good. Had a bad set? No one cares. You didn’t lose any opportunities, no one will remember. Be comfortable and get better -that’s when people will remember you. –Me!
11. Every time anything happens to anyone, roll your eyes and say “only in New York.” –Brendan Eyre
12. Get up as often as you can every night. No exceptions. New York truly is the Harvard Law of Comedy. The best of the best are here and every day you take off there are 200 other people getting better. –Robbie Collier
COUNTERPOINT: You need to have a life outside of comedy. –Andrew Short
13. Talk to people. Feels like no one likes you and is ignoring you in the scene? That’s because comics are all awkward, uncomfortable people. Take the first step, say hello, compliment a joke -you’d be surprised how few people are actually assholes. –Me!
14. Become friends with people that are funnier than you are. They will continue to come up with incredible jokes that impress you and will force you to keep pushing yourself as hard as you can to keep pace. Also, you just need people to sign you up for mics. –Mark Chalifoux
15. This one is important: Don’t come here. I’m serious. Stay the fuck home, you cocksucker. –Brendan Eyre


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Little Reid Big City #19

Reiders. How kind of you to join me again.

I am only a couple weeks away now from my year anniversary in New York City. It’s already been a year –I am in a state of minor disbelief. Lately at work, I’ve been taking extra bathroom breaks, sitting on the toilet, and listening to old sets of mine I recorded on my phone. It helps pass the time, while also providing some insight into just how far I’ve come. Listening back to even February (sometimes I don’t dare dredge up October and September, they were a little rough), I’m amazed how far I have come. I hear jokes and wonder, “Where did I think that was going? Why couldn’t I get to the point?” I was so jittery on stage, I could hardly stick to a topic, and if I did a lot of the times it was so abstract with no real point or reason. Then again, some of the sets went great –as nice as it is to think I’ve improved so tremendously, I can’t be unreasonable and hate everything I did back then. But the point remains: I’ve come a long way.

I think the first five months were the worst. I lacked confidence, didn’t know anyone, was alone for a while heading out to mics and shows. I was lonely, and you can hear it in the jokes I was doing: “Do you ever get depressed and start eating ice cream, only to stop so you can save some for when you’re depressed tomorrow?” After that though, I found my group of friends, started getting booked on shows, and everything has gone uphill from there. Those first months though, I am happy to know I will never have to do that again, but on the same note happy that I could get through it.

This past week I was booked on five separate shows in the city, the most I’ve been booked on in one week as of yet. These were also some of the best shows I’ve done in the city as well –incredibly booked, great audiences, great reactions. I’m starting to get really confident in some of my material, and finding a way to lead audiences into my more abstract jokes. One of my new bits, one I actually really like, is surprisingly observational and clear to understand. It’s a joke where the idea is so relatable yet unaddressed, that one of the bigger laughs I get is by simply stating the truth of the matter. This is something very new for me. Yet I still perform it in my style, it still feels very “Reid” despite being relatively simple and straightforward. I’ve been pairing this with some shorter punchier jokes in the beginning, and have found it is so much easier to tackle the more abstract, convoluted, patience-requiring material I love so much. These are the kinds of ideas I would have never thought of when I first arrived. Sure, I knew I had to lead audiences into my style, but most of the time this was done by sacrificing what I like for what works with the audience, so that when I finally did make the leap into “my” material, they were still lost. I’m learning how to guide people in and make what I do relatable, as absurd as that may seem.

This past week felt especially good considering I was still feeling down about missing some work at my home club in Cincinnati. A good friend of mine, Ryan Singer, was heading back for his first headlining week there, and had hoped to bring me with him as his feature. I was really excited about it, the owner had told me even the year prior he was looking for a time when I could feature (doing the middle, 20-25 minute act) there, and I was looking forward to returning. When Ryan suggested it though, it was shot down, and for good reasons. It was Ryan’s first time headlining there, it would be my first time featuring there, not to mention that given our styles it would be the weirdest piece of shit ever. The show would simply be too much of a risk, and though I understand that, I was still disappointed. I found this out only a week after getting rejected from the Comic Strip for very similar reasons –being too alternative, too weird for club audiences. My confidence took a definite dip. Yet it felt like this week New York was making it up to me. Some of the people I performed for (namely the drunk patrons of a Thai restaurant on a beach) were clearly not my type of crowd, were not into comedy, and were not seeking out the strange and alternative. But when I did “my” material and did great, hell, better than I could’ve imagined given the scenario, it felt very good. Sure, I can be a risk, what I do is not really within the norm, but I can still make people laugh –and if I do that one where I kiss myself as a twelve year old boy just right, I can make them laugh hard.

This year has been very difficult at points, but I don’t think I’ve been happier with any other choice. I’ve learned and improved more than I could have anywhere else almost, and all it took was feeling like a wet piece of shit for a few months.

GUEST SENTENCE: Reid from October –“Oh, I’m a sad little boy. Why is the joke about the new Bible I’m writing not working? Boo hoo, I wish I had friends.” As OctoberReid went over his sentence allotment, he will not be returning.

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Little Reid Big City #18

Oh, Reiders, I want to get frank and sexual with you. I want to write a poem with your ink.

There. I hope that’s non sequitur enough of an intro for you. How are you guys? Good? Oh, I’m alright. Thank you for asking.

Over the weekend I got to do my second real road gig since I’ve been here in New York. Did one before at Dartmouth College with Alex Fossella and Angel Costillo (who put on the mighty fine podcast called “The AA Meeting”, that a certain blogger/young man has appeared on/done the logo for (not the elephant one on iTunes. Is it up yet? The one with theirs souls escaping their bodies? Never mind)). It was strange, performing for college kids, all people younger than me; there was a freedom and confidence to it you don’t always get performing to your elders. This last show upped that ante: I performed at a children’s summer camp in Connecticut for a rowdy group of a hundred screaming eight to eleven year olds. In college I used to perform for children at grade schools as part of a volunteer comedy performance group, but that was in a school setting, for older children. This was not near as controlled.

As I took the stage, I came out to a chorus of children screaming, “You’re short! You’re short!” while smaller groups shouted, “You look like an elf!” One child, a nine year old boy, a cute kid with shaggy brown hair in the front, felt it in his heart to yell, “You look like a faggot!” I swear this is true. In his defense, he did not shout it with any malice, rather he shouted it like he had the right answer. It’s near impossible to do real material with kids of this age, let alone this level of hollerin’, regardless of the fact that one of my favorite jokes features phrases such as “shit in an open wound,” “smoosh your butthole into my butthole” and “my cock is so worn, withered, and calloused if I’m going to feel anything during sex it has to be pain.” So mostly I just led the kids in obscure animal impressions (a goat who’s afraid to get married) and fed a young girl a baby carrot from a baggie I’d been carrying around in my pocket all day. She ate the carrot –I’m not sure what it was I felt about this, but the closest word is “pride.” Performing for children is disconcerting in a way: they don’t laugh as a whole. There are pockets of laughter, but it’s as if they don’t know the social cues found in a joke to come together as one. A friend, Eli Sairs, who did the show before me, reasoned that all jokes to some level are a trick, and these kids simply didn’t enjoy being duped –they wanted to outsmart us. Every turn a joke would take they would try to avoid it, shout out the twist or their own punchline, anything to avoid the trick. Or maybe we just don’t know what kids think is funny.

Partway through the next comic’s set, a child ran on stage threatening to give him a wedgie. He agreed, on the condition he could give the boy one first. Not only did he give the kid a wedgie, he also enraged some of the parents watching, including the wife of the camp director. The next morning we were informed the second show was cancelled, we needed to leave the camp immediately, and that the camp counselor (and fellow comedian/friend Joel Walkowski) would be demoted. I’m not sure, but I think that means the trip was awesome.

Back in New York things have gone decently enough. I stopped hosting my open mic –it can be a good opportunity and a good service, but it was becoming tedious and seemingly worthless. I’m still co-producing Underbelly, and will soon start helping a friend produce her monthly stand-up show, so I figure two actual shows are worth at least one mic. I don’t really have much more to talk about.

I guess I just really wanted to tell you that a nine year old called me a “faggot.”

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Little Reid, Big City #17


Hello Reiders!

I like how my standard opening has gone from being ironic to heartfelt through the power of repetition. In some ways it upsets me, but then I calm down, and think about how much I love you all, then I feel better.

A couple weeks ago I co-produced my first show! Underbelly, the show I mentioned in last month’s blog post, finally had its New York premier, and it went damn fine. The whole premise is “Stand-Up Comedians Doing Everything but Stand-Up” –which I can happily say we more than delivered. Throughout the show there was a magic show, several skits, songs, dancing, puppets, myself topless covered in “cocaine”, and comic Nick Vatterott doing something with milk jugs that though I did not quite understand, left me full of pleasures and smiles. The show was pretty packed, we had a cake decorated like one of the performers “taking a shit in an ice cream sundae” and overall I was well pleased. Other comics are coming up to me pretty frequently with ideas, asking how to get on Underbelly –if I had any regret, it was waiting this long to put on a show.

It was a good highlight, which provided some wonderful perspective for a somewhat crushing low. Back in March I had my first audition for the Comic Strip, a respected New York comedy club, and after the second lottery I received my second audition spot, which I performed at last Tuesday night. The format was different: the audition itself was a show, complete with live judging, a proper host (Sherrod Small), a packed crowd, and an admittedly forced degree of severity and drama added to the show to make it interesting. “The judges are going to be mean, they’re going to try to rip you apart on stage, but it’s part of the show, don’t worry about it,” was what we were told before performing. My last audition went well enough; one of my jokes really connected, the other fell a little flat after rushing through it upon getting the light early. This was considerably worse. After waiting a couple hours, first for the show to start then for the long judging rounds to finish, I finally had my time to perform –for a minute and a half. Before me, each comic had their full time, the three to five minutes we were told we could perform, everyone getting five and some good feedback from the crowd. I got through one bit and the set-up for another before being audibly buzzed and forced to stop. “Maybe this kind of stuff will work downtown, but it would never work here. You’re too alt to work here.” “You didn’t even tell jokes, that’s the problem, you sat up there for five minutes and never told a joke.” And so on. One of the judges stood up for me a bit, arguing that I didn’t even have the time to get anywhere, that I was doing something different and no one knew what to expect, and we didn’t find out what I was even going to do. “He was trying something new and different, I don’t see why we can’t have a comic like this work here.” The crowd responded well to that, before the booker interrupted and pointed out that they weren’t laughing, that’s why acts like mine wouldn’t be booked. Finally I asked, “Please, I just have to know: did I get passed or not?”

Afterwards, the booker talked with me, this time friendly and complimentary. He thanked me for being a good sport, and told me that he liked that I was different, that I shouldn’t let go of that, that if this were an alternative room he’d book me in a heartbeat, and that he likes the weirder stuff but it just doesn’t work for this room. Great. The whole thing’s given me a lot to think about. I know what I’m doing is strange, isn’t stand-up in a conventional sense, and I understood going in that what I planned to do isn’t what they prefer. But to not even be given the time to do anything, to be cut off before I even had a chance to show what it is that I do, that was rough. At least when I look at it I can’t say I had a bad set –I just didn’t have a set. Matters were slightly complicated when my roommate followed me, riffed with the judges beautifully and got both passed to work at the club and received management in the same night. It’s not always fun to have one of your worst nights in comedy a few minutes before one of your closest friends has his best. But in all honesty, though of course it hurts a bit to see someone else get opportunities you didn’t, I can’t be anything but proud for him. The timing, perhaps, stings a little, but it’s good to see someone talented get what’s coming to them. I hope that’s some kind of maturity.

In summary: it was a miserable experience. It left me doubting my material in a club setting, feeling embarrassed, a bit angry, and further frustrated from the booker’s positive comments and the suspicion that the harsh treatment was only for the sake of the show, which is a wonderful way to treat my only opportunity in a year. But oddly, I feel confident about it all. It was one of the worst experiences I could’ve had in that setting, and that’s made performing far easier since then. I performed the first two jokes twice at shows last night, to great reception, and have been taking a lot more risks with what I choose to perform –why not? It couldn’t be much worse than that. Somehow, it’s made comedy and writing new material go a lot smoother this last week. After that night, amid the support and nice words from my friends, I heard plenty of stories about the amazing comics the venue has ignored and rejected in the past. Here’s hoping I can be one of them.

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Little Reid, Big City #16

Reiders.

I am so sorry. This blog has gone by the wayside as of late –I have ignored you, turned my back on my Reidership, and for this, I sincerely apologize. If you truly love something, let it go, and if it comes back (as I hope you do, Reiders) then the love you had was real. Let me tell you, Reiders, it’s real. When I look in your eyes I see mine reflected back. And then I kiss you.

I’ve been actually planning this blog for a while, as I think it both offers some more insight into the day to day life of comedy in New York, and also helps explain why I haven’t been updating as frequently. Essentially, it boils down to this: it’s hard to be a person out here. I feel like I’m definitely a comedian out here now, I’ve committed a lot to it, am getting better, and am showing a good deal of dedication, but a comedian is not a person. A person, for example, when they find ants everyday in their bedroom for a month, might do something about it. A person might make himself dinner more than once every three weeks, or take the time to buy groceries more than once a month to make that dream even possible. I’m not quite a person. Between work, comedy, a new girlfriend (hey!), and the basic errands I have to do (sleep, eating bad pizza at the only restaurant open in Astoria after 11), I don’t get time for much else. I tend to wake up everyday at 6:40, get to work by 8:30, leave at 5:30, get to a mic by 6, do that until 8, head to another mic that gets out around 10, get on the train and back to Astoria by 11 (12 if I decide to talk to people) and wake up the next day to do it again. There is literally no time in the day for almost anything else. If I take a night off, which I try to do a night or two a week, or take an early night with only one mic, that time left over I’ll likely spend with my girlfriend (hey!) or trying to write. It took me nine months to change banks. During that time I had to send every check I got back to Fort Wayne, IN for my mom to put in the bank for me. That is not something a person would do.

For a little this was far too daunting. Yet, I’ve found trying to do less comedy to make more time for personal living doesn’t really help matters. I feel like I don’t progress as much at comedy, that I write less, do worse, and feel bad about the level of commitment I lose by sacrificing time to eat at a normal hour and sleep the amount “doctors” say I should. I’m going to try the opposite. I read the heavily recommended book The War of Art, and will be taking some advice from it. The reason I feel bad isn’t because I have ants, forget to water my plants or no longer floss; it’s because I’m not committing myself enough. If I can really dedicate myself to comedy and put in time I can feel proud of, my person-life won’t be a bother, because the comedy-life will be fulfilled.

Beyond that, things have been going well. The open mic has been getting a lot more fun –there’s lots of shouting, Christmas music, and poorly choreographed dancing between my co-host Andrew Short and me. The turnout isn’t too high, but the comics performing have been having a good time; the energy is high, and we actually enjoy doing it. Also: bigger news! We finally booked a (hopefully) monthly show! It took a while, and most other avenues ended up being dead ends, but what we got is far better than I would’ve hoped for. Andrew, fellow comedian Kelly Fastuca, and I are producing a show called Underbelly, which is an extension of the show Andrew and I used to do in Cincinnati of the same name. We got it booked for an upcoming Saturday at the Creek and the Cave, easily our favorite venue in town. Now that it’s booked, we begin the process of putting on a show –booking, promoting, organizing, and finally putting it on. It’s more pressure to put into the mix, but I think it will help me a lot. I’ll be keeping you up to date on all that.

I love you all so goddamn much.

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